NSA ‘broke, circumvented Internet encryption standards’

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The United States National Security Agency (NSA) has been able to crack or get around basic encryption standards used daily by hundreds of millions of Internet users, according to newly leaked documents. The New York Times said on Friday that it was in possession of documents that prove that the NSA is not restrained by universal encryption standards used in the US and abroad. The NSA, which is America’s largest intelligence agency, and is tasked by the US government with intercepting electronic communications worldwide, is now able to routinely circumvent Secure Sockets Layer or virtual private networks, as well as encryption protection standards used on fourth-generation cell phones. It therefore has instant access to the content of billions of encrypted messages exchanged by users of some of the Internet’s most popular email companies, including Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and Facebook. The paper said it obtained the documents from Edward Snowden, a technical contractor for the NSA who defected to Russia this past summer. They include internal NSA memoranda that suggest the NSA deployed specially built supercomputers to break Internet encryption standards. In other cases, the Agency worked with selected companies and convinced them to “build entry points into their products”. The multi-billion effort was apparently launched by the NSA in the early 2000s, soon after the US government lost a lengthy battle with the communications industry centering on the so-called ‘clipper chip’. The clipper chip was designed to provide the NSA with easy backdoor access to Internet communications. But the plan was shelved after it was met with concerted resistance by industry and civil liberties groups. This prompted the NSA to “set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth”, said The Times. Even though the Agency is still unable to break some forms of encryption, it maintains substantial access to global Internet communications through a variety of means. These include code-cracking, hacking, legal injunctions, and exercising “behind the scenes persuasion” aimed at Internet communication providers. The Times said the documents do not identify the companies that are collaborating with the NSA. It also said that US government officials requested that The Times not publish the revelation, but that its editors decided to air it “because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful privacy tools”.

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